Links: The Reformation Period

Luther’s 95 Theses — If you’ve ever wanted to read Luther’s actual theses, here they are (in translation)!  You’ll probably be varyingly interested in these, but I’ve found the following to be quite provocative: 6, 21, 27, 36-37, 52-53, 62, 79, and 92-95.

The Condemnation of Martin Luther — This is the text of the papal bull, called “Exsurge, Domine” (from its first words), in which Pope Leo X expressed the church’s condemnation of Luther. The whole thing is interesting, but you might especially enjoy the last few paragraphs, beginning with the one starting, “As far as Martin himself is concerned….”

The Preaching of John Tetzel — This is a YouTube clip from the 2003 movie Luther, starring Joseph Fiennes in the title role (please forgive the Dutch subtitles — I hope they aren’t distracting!).  Scroll forward to the 4:40 mark, where you will see about 4:00 of footage depicting what the preaching of Tetzel might have been like.  Notice the emotional pleas Tetzel makes — it is easy to see how his rhetoric would have been effective in selling indulgences!

The Schleitheim Confession — The sometimes-called “Radical Reformers,” who later became the Anabaptists’ text, developed a seminal text in 1527 called the “Schleitheim Confession.”  It reflects well several Anabaptist values.  Most of it is self-explanatory, except for the term “the ban,” which appears now and again.  This refers to a method of church discipline by which sinful members are ostracized from the church until they repent of their sins.  It is like what Paul prescribes in 1 Corinthians 5, and it is the predecessor of the Amish practice of “shunning.”

The Drowning of Dirk Willems — This image comes an etching connected with an important Anabaptist work stretching back to the 16th century, called The Martyrs’ Mirror.  It was a crucial community-building text for the Anabaptists — it sealed their identity as a persecuted, but ultimately triumphant people.  And the story below the image, about a man named Dirk Willems, is the most famous of the stories contained therein.  He saved one of his persecutors but was executed nonetheless.

A Selection from Calvin’s Institutes — Here you have a selection from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, a staple text of the Reformed tradition of Protestant Christianity.  Specifically, this is Book III’s “Chapter 21” on the “eternal election” of God, “by which God has predestined some to salvation, and others to destruction.”  You’ll get a sense of Calvin’s ideas about predestination, as well as his method.  He is quite a thorough thinker, considering both Scriptural foundations for his own arguments, and also the merits of those of his accusers.

Calvin’s Letter to France’s King Francis I — As a preface to the 1536 edition of his Institutes, Calvin wrote a letter to France’s King Francis I.  Here is a link to that letter.  It’s an interesting companion piece to some of Luther’s writings to the leaders of Germany in his heyday.

The Thirty-Nine Articles — The Reformation in England took a unique course, issuing in the doctrinal text called the Thirty-Nine Articles.  They represent Anglican theology as it came to be under Queen Elizabeth I, built on the foundation of Thomas Cranmer in the days of King Henry VIII.  Notice how the first five articles represent classic Christian orthodoxy, article 6 sounds quite Protestant, and articles 11 and 17 take up issues dear to the hearts of Luther and Calvin, respectively.  And yet there are things that are still Catholic, including what sounds like the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in Communion, as stated in article 28 (although transubstantiation is repudiated), as well as the power of the church to establish “rites and ceremonies,” as stated in article 20.  Note also that article 39 seems to interact with Anabaptist teaching on oaths.

Preface to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer — This is the preface to the first edition of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, in its original 15th-century English (you can handle it).  Noteworthy things include: 1) the concern in the first paragraph for people’s continually growing knowledge of God, and that they be inflamed with a love for the Christian religion; 2) the note in the second paragraph that only portions of Scripture were typically being read in church, and that worship was just plain difficult in the medieval church; 3) and the resulting desires that Anglican worship should be easy for people to follow and perform, that it should be done in their own language (fourth paragraph), and that it should be the same all over England (fifth paragraph).

History of the English-Language Bible — If you’re interested in learning more about the history of English-language Bibles, see this site.  It’s very informative!  It even gets up to just a few years ago in its narrative.

More about Ignatius Loyola — Here’s a link to a site with more information about Ignatius Loyola, that important figure in the Catholic Reformation.  The top of the page is a biography of the saint, with discussion of his life and thought below.  Further, there is a link in the left-hand sidebar to his Spiritual Exercises, so important for the Jesuit movement that he founded.  Explore to your heart’s content!

The Beginning of Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises — And here’s the beginning of that very text!  He talks a bit about different kinds of sin, when we should talk about sin, etc., but the most interesting part is at the very bottom.  While the majority of the text sounds rather medieval and rather Catholic, the last bit about confession is something that most Christians can easily agree with.

Bartolome de las Casas on the Devastation of the Caribbean Islands — Bartolome (“Bartholomew”) de las Casas was an important figure in the history of Christianity in the New World, first as a priest and later as a champion of the oppressed natives.  This link is his famous Brief Report of the Devastation of the Indies.  For more about him overall, check out this link.

Preface to the Original King James Bible — The King James Bible has been the single most influential English translation of the Bible in history.  Read here the first part of the preface to the first edition — the section to King James.  You can get a sense of the values of the translators.  Given James’s actual actions toward the Dissenters who produced the translation, one wonders if there was some irony in the effusive praise they give him in the text.

Thumbnail image credit (Martin Luther): https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Suggested next click: the next set of links (the early modern period)

Modern Worship and the Protestant Reformation

church history bookThe church history class I teach most often at our university is a so-called “survey” course — one in which we try to absorb elements of all 2,000 years of Christian history in ONE SEMESTER.  As you can guess, we’re always having to treat things at less depth than I would prefer, in the interest of getting the “big picture.”

When we get to modern American Christianity, it can sometimes be hard to see how church life in our day is connected with events from previous centuries.  However, it’s important to know — and a class focused on the history of Christianity in the U.S. would teach you — that many modern American denominations come directly out of the events of the Reformation.  There are, of course, Lutheran churches in America, as well as Episcopal and Methodist churches that are descendants of the Anglican Reformation in England.  But there are also churches descended from the Anabaptist movement (like the Amish and Mennonites) and several denominations that descend from the teaching of John Calvin (e.g., the Baptists and Presbyterians).

But something else that is true is that many denominations in America are based on a mixing of various Reformation traditions.  Think, for example, of the Churches of Christ, which (despite their claims to “non-denominationalism”) have their organizational roots in both Baptist and Presbyterian churches.  A more common example lies in the doctrine (that is, the theological teachings) in various churches.  When preachers focus on justification by grace, they are influenced by Luther.  When they focus on the sovereignty of God, they are influenced by Calvin.  When they strongly lean on the separation of church and state, they are influenced by the Anabaptists.  And you can hear all of these things in one and the same church, despite the variety of influences!

christomlinFor many of us, though, doctrine can be rather dry, and it often doesn’t affect us directly.  But the ways that we worship do affect us directly.  They are important to us, and they are important vehicles for our relationship with God.  And many of these ways of worship also go back to Reformation practices or principles.  Here are just a few examples:

  • We worship, pray, and hear Scripture read in the vernacular, a practice that arises from all the Reformation traditions.
  • We can sometimes emphasize the Eucharist (Communion) very strongly, and this emphasis sometimes goes back to Catholic or Anglican influences.
  • We very often lean heavily on a sermon in our worship, and this tradition arose in the Reformation world with people like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli.  That’s especially true with preachers who are able to make the word relevant to contemporary life – as is so often the case in many of our “megachurches.”  Luther might not love some aspects of modern church life, but he would love the connection of “sound doctrine” with everyday life.
  • Finally, we use music a lot in our worship, and most of the ways are reflections of Reformation ideas.  When we have beautiful music performed by talented (maybe even professional) musicians, we participate in an impulse that was prominent the Catholic church after the Reformation.  When we emphasize congregational singing, we follow the same impulse for church participation that animated Luther.  That’s especially true when we put Christian words to familiar songs.  When we sing psalms set to music, we follow Calvin’s ideas.  When we sing simple, heartfelt songs, we follow Zwingli and the Anabaptists.  Note that a modern worship often has all of these: simple, meditative song, psalms and hymns set to music, rousing congregational pieces, and maybe even a “special” performed by a choir or ensemble.  We are truly a mix.

congregationalworship

So what does this mean for us?  As was the case with universities, I find myself in a spirit of gratitude with regard to the Reformation influence on our modern worship.  I love music, and I love worship, and I am so grateful that Christians have found so many tools with which to worship God in the varied history of our faith.

Image credits: http://www.stjohnadulted.org/Gonzalz1.jpghttps://bicyclefreaksforchrist.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/chris-tomlin.jpg, and http://www.nwhills.org/ministries/worship-music/worship-band.html